01/27/2014 11:24AM

Jay Bergman: No need to postpone change at Yonkers

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Rebekah Mae Photography
Joe Faraldo (right) toasts Prix. d'Amerique winning owner Margareta Wallenius-Kleberg as Yonkers Raceway handicapper Peter Venaglia joins the celebration.

In last week’s conversation with Joe Faraldo, head of the Standardbred Owners Association of New York, he touched on changes to the Yonkers Raceway product that would need to be in place to specifically tailor to the needs of the wagering network in France come this October.

Faraldo made it clear that 10-horse fields would be necessary to attract the best betting dollar and make the venture the most profitable for the foreign entity. Faraldo also assured us that trotting races would be at a premium because it was unlikely pacing events would be of any interest to the French.

Modifying the racing product in October is a nice thing to do. It’s a smart idea to react and change when markets open up.

But why wait?

Why should Yonkers only alter its product for those in France?

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Is it possible the French know more about wagering than we do in this country? Is it conceivable that they want 10 horses in a race because it will produce a greater handle?

It would seem logical that larger fields would help increase the bottom line for Yonkers and its wagering partners, but is there really a need to wait until October to start this experiment?

Change is a dynamic that many are afraid of. Yet those who have lived long enough know that life is ever-changing. Humans tend to resist change, yet those smart enough to adapt quickly to change are generally the ones who profit the most from it.

In the same conversation with Faraldo, he mentioned that he would like to see more claiming races. The logic apparently was that claiming races produce better handles and that they are more competitive.

Has it finally come to light that simply putting high purses on conditioned races may not be the best way to go? Can it be that purse size does not correlate directly to wagering pool size?

No matter how we arrive at a destination, Faraldo and the horsemen are clearly moving into a new era given the potential for profit via its overseas initiative.

Simply put, why not start the changes now?

The huge amount of purse money spent each year on the races at Yonkers has not generated enough wagering interest. Looking for markets outside of this country may help bridge the gap, but there’s no reason why more money couldn’t be wagered on the Yonkers product in North America.

Let’s not point a finger at Yonkers either in this pursuit, there are countless other tracks giving away large chunks of purse money and not getting comparable betting figures.

Faraldo didn’t want to see 1-9 shots in conditioned events and who could blame him. At the same time, it’s still hard to imagine why the Yonkers race office and its horsemen can’t pool their resources and eliminate 1-9 shots before they are put on the betting card. Why not draw 14-15 races per day and eliminate three races from the betting program that are likely to produce the lowest public choices?

The other two or three races can be conducted off the program if necessary or those races could be redrawn for another day with perhaps a different blend of horses making them better wagering events.

There’s been a big fuss about racing dates. Some racetrack owners believe that fewer racing dates produce a better racing product while horsemen tend to believe that more racing dates allows for a greater distribution of purses to a wider array of owners.

No matter which side of the argument you are on, the reality is better races need to be created and marketed in a manner that attracts more interest and sheds a better light on the sport.

Change requires sacrifice on all fronts. Is it really in the public interest to assure that horses get in the box every week when logic dictates that quite often in two of the four monthly starts the connections aren’t interested?

Isn’t it better to let the horses’ race just twice during the month, perhaps for higher purses, assuring that they are a go every time they’re behind the gate?

The promise of purse money without the requirement to race to win has been dragging down our product for way too long. The reality is that the wagering public is not fooled.

The numbers don’t lie.

On a positive front, I would suggest that we stop looking at the past and try to explore the future to card racing events that have substance, meaning and are worthy of public interest and promotion. Given the opportunity on the plate with the French this fall, I believe it may be time for Yonkers or any other North American track that wished, to seize an opportunity. Attempt one grand 12-hour spectacle designed to be raced during the day and end sometime around midnight. The event would attempt to have grand trotting races for those in Europe to wager on and grand pacing races for those in the Southern Hemisphere to bite into.

Better yet, we could have horses from Europe and from Australia and New Zealand along with drivers from all countries on hand to make it a unique worldwide festival.

The International Trot still stands above all other events ever put together in North America to gain public interest. With the advent of a worldwide wagering network, there’s no reason why one event couldn’t be created to attract the best of the world to these shores.

And if we can hold the Super Bowl in New Jersey in February, there’s no reason we couldn’t have the best horses in the world arrive in early December to put on a meaningful harness show for the world to watch and wager upon.

If you’re going to dream, dream big.

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Jerry de Thomas More than 1 year ago
couldn't make it through the whole column...Mr Bergman simply excepts the fact that the French are brilliant and know all...you want to give it a try on a very (very very very) limited basis then fine...but anybody who thinks more trotting races (and of course many more breaking horses) is the answer...well...you have heard of the Maginot Line, another 'briilant idea from the French...that worked really well didn't it...
walter More than 1 year ago
10 horse fields at Yonkers won't help much. If you think the 8 hole has no chance now in an 8 horse field try the 8 hole in a 10 horse field. The only way a larger field would help is by expanding the track but that will never happen. What may help is by spiral grading or adding ,ore banking to the turns. It is very difficult to bet a horse outside of the 5 hole the way races are run there.
Jay Bergman More than 1 year ago
Walter, To the contrary if five of the ten horses in the race do not get checks there is much more motivation for the outside horses to be put into play early. It's the guaranteed weekly money that has destroyed the competitiveness of the races not the post positions.